JDC Archives Scholars’ Workshop Focuses on Jews in the Muslim World

Workshop brought together thirty scholars from six countries

The JDC Archives and the Ben-Zvi Institute held an online workshop, “The Work of the Joint Distribution Committee and Other International Jewish Organizations in Islamic Countries” on September 1-2, 2020, which drew almost thirty scholars from six countries. The Steering Committee that planned the workshop included Michal Ben Ya’akov of Efrata College in Jerualem, Ofra Tirosh Becker and Hannan Harif of the Ben Zvi Institute, and Linda Levi and Anat Kutner of the JDC Archives.

La Ghriba synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia, 2009. Photograph: Chrystie Sherman.

In recent decades, scholars have been paying increased attention to the study of Jews in the Muslim world, particularly to the work of JDC and other international Jewish organizations such as the Alliance Israelite Universelle, with these communities in the twentieth century. New technologies, the digitization of archives and of historical press, and sophisticated search engines have led to increased accessibility to resources on these topics. The workshop explored the current state of research and scholarship on these topics and explored directions for research.

The topics examined were broad in geographical and chronological scope and included the changing relationship between Iraqi Jewry and JDC between 1917 and 1951, the massacre in Jerada, Morocco, in June 1948 to the educational work of JDC and the Alliance in Iran in the mid-twentieth century.

The workshop also showcased presentations from two former JDC country directors in Tunisia
and Morocco and a special film screening, which features clips from five films from the JDC Archives Historic Film Collection that focused on JDC’s work with Jews from Algeria, Iran, Morocco and Yemen.

A highlight of the workshop was the keynote lecture delivered by Dr. Lior Sternfeld on “Studying the Middle East through the Prism of the Jewish Communities.” In this lecture, Dr. Sternfeld focused on how the study of minorities, and especially Jewish communities, help us understand better the histories of Middle Eastern societies, especially in the transformative period of the twentieth century. The lecture was dedicated to honor Professor Yaron Tsur, a prominent historian of the Jews in the Muslim lands in the modern era? and the founder and director of JPress.

Commenting on the value of the workshop, Professor Haim Saadon, Dean of Academic Studies at the Open University, wrote:

“Such a conference exposes us to new research being conducted around the world and opens new and significant horizons of knowledge and possibilities. The leap you have made in JDC archive over the years is amazing and you set a high standard for other archives. It was a very interesting and fruitful workshop. Such a workshop exposes us to new researches (sic) that are being conducted around the world and opening new and significant horizons of knowledge and possibilities. I learned a lot from you and for that I am grateful.”

This is the fourth workshop that the JDC Archives has organized. The first workshop took place in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Joint. In 2017, JDC Archives held a workshop on “Refugees, Migrations and the Work of the Joint.” In 2019, JDC Archives was invited to cosponsor a workshop on “The Activities of the Joint in Poland and Neighboring Countries 1945-1989: Reality and Perceptions.” The program was held at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.